“The Motion of the Body Through Space” by Lionel Shriver

Genre: Literary Fiction/SatireThe Motion
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pub. Date: April 20, 2020

I have enjoyed Lionel Shriver’s previous books but this one disappointed me.  “The Motion of the Body Through Space” is an okay read if you remember that you are reading a satire regarding the many Americans who take physical fitness to extremes and how easy it is to fall into mass conformity. It can get truly tiring to read an entire novel with a one-message theme pounded into your head nonstop.  If you are not in on the joke, the novel will drag on and on.  And, even if you are, the story still can get on your nerves.

The tale revolves around a happily married couple who are in their early 60s, living in Hudson, N.Y. Due to profession and physical bad luck, their senior years are not going as smoothly as their earlier years. The husband is fired from his job.  His self-esteem goes out the window.  He decides to run a marathon although he has never had any interest in any physical activities before.  That was always his wife’s gig until recently when her knees gave out.  However, she did her running by herself not part of a spectator’s sport. He makes his announcement to his wife. “In a second-rate sitcom, she’d have spewed coffee across her breakfast.” Adding more tension into the marriage after the marathon, he announces a new goal: a triathlon, under the guidance of an extremely toned, pretty, personal female trainer.  The author’s fictional MettleMan triathlon is her tongue in cheek way of not even bothering to hide the comparison to the real-life Metalman triathlon.

The novel is good at establishing the us-versus-them mentality. Wife to husband: “You do realize that organized sport is an industry?”  Husband to wife: “Soft drinks are an industry. We still buy soda water.” The trainer puts in her two cents, “anyone who says a discouraging word about MettleMan: you’re just gutless, indolent, and weak.” Suddenly, the wife is out of the window along with her husband’s job.  She wearily cries, “MettleMan isn’t just an exercise regime it’s a cult…The man I fell in love with has been kidnapped.”   The argument made throughout the book suggests that extreme sports might be a form of mental sickness.  Once at the multisport event race—that could do permanent physical damage to most of us— the founder of MetalMan gives a speech that leans more Nazi than motivational.  The wife thinks, “Leni Riefenstahl, where are you?”

Although the book can be funny, the punchline wears thin.  The story had the makings of a good romp regarding our weight-fitness obsessed culture, but the satire falls short.  In “Motion,” Shriver also attempts to take on parent-child issues, racial tensions, and politics, but they are hard to find due to the nonstop fixation on physical fitness. I do give her points for daring to write a novel with no likable characters. It is interesting getting into the psyche of those who train for marathons. Still, you might want to run, as fast as you can, away from this novel.

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